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Don’t just work, work out too

india Updated: Sep 08, 2011 12:46 IST
Shrenik Avlani
Shrenik Avlani
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Staying fit is a tough job when you work long hours and do long commutes. The ideal option would be a gym near or at your workplace where you can exercise and destress.

Though there are few organizations that have in-house gyms - 97% respondents in the HT survey said their workplaces had no gyms - many companies have started recognising the need to offer their employees alternatives to stay fit.

While some have started offering discounts at specific gyms in the city and sponsoring the marathon for their employees, others are setting up games rooms, offering healthy meals at the office canteen and conducting health workshops and medical check-ups on a regular basis.

Work-life balance is an important aspect of employees, said Ajoyendra Mukherjee, head, global human resources, Tata Consultancy Services.

“Physically and mentally fit people have to be kept engaged at the workplace,” said Arvind Agarwal, RPG Group’s head for corporate development and HR, expounding on one of the basic tenets of industrial psychology. “Through various physical activities, including sports, we engage our employees because engaged people give their best to the organisation.”

In many cases, the heads of corporate houses set example for others to follow. Former Hindustan Unilever (HUL) CEO Douglas Bailey, for instance, is such an avid runner that he has competed in several full marathons and in an ultra marathon. Unilever CEO Paul Polman is also keen on fitness and runs an hour every day.

The enthusiasm of their bosses has rubbed off, and HUL has an in-house trainer, Savio D’Souza, who helps HUL employees run regularly and participate in marathons across the country.

Similarly, TCS’s CEO and managing director, N Chandrasekaran, runs the marathon regularly. Taking cue from him, several TCS employees have taken to running and now they form one of the biggest contingents at the Mumbai Marathon, which the organization sponsors.

Hindustan Unilever Limited

The Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) head office at Andheri East seems like an oasis in the midst of a grimy, chaotic, congested area.

Within the campus is a gym, tucked away in the far corner close to the Western Express Highway, where five people are using their lunch hour to sneak in a workout at 1.30 pm as certified trainers keep a watch over them from a bench near the entrance.

In another part of the campus, finance manager Bhupesh Gouniyal is practising with his band in the music room.

Employee health is promoted at HUL through a number initiatives, and physical fitness is just one of them. “Sound body and mind are crucial for the company’s health and performance,” said Dr T Rajgopal, HUL’s consultant medical officer, before running away for a game of table tennis during the lunch break. “Fitness and health of our employees is very important and both are a part of our work culture.”

The HUL campus has facilities for yoga, meditation, squash and badminton courts and table tennis. The company has also arranged for former marathoner Savio D’Souza to come during lunch hour thrice a week and help employees with stretching exercises. D’Souza also trains a group at the race course and Priyadarshini Park twice a week for marathons.

Employee health is also promoted through a number of informal initiatives such as clubs through which people can pursue their non-work interests and hobbies. The firm has eight clubs involved in various activities.

The company keeps a check on its employees’ health as part of its global Vitality Index programme. Under this, HUL monitors employee’s health based on four parameters and helps them with stress management and nutrition.

The food served at the canteen is flagged red (high calorie), orange (medium calorie) and green (low calorie) and the calorie content of each item is stated.

Tata Consultancy Services

The software services behemoth is closely involved with its employees’ wellness through various structured and informal programmes.

“Work-life balance is an important aspect of employees. We have our regular employee engagement programmes executed through our human resources team. We have a calendar of activities to promote creativity, wellness, fitness and fun,” said Ajoyendra Mukherjee, head, global human resources.

Many TCS offices are well equipped with a state-of-the-art gymnasium, besides facilities for other sports such as table tennis, basketball, badminton and tennis. “Each of these facilities has professional coaches to train and help our employees enhance their ability,” said Mukherjee.

In Mumbai, TCS’ facility in Powai has a fully equipped gym with the latest machines and trained fitness experts. A number of employee engagement initiatives, including fun events, wellness programmes, treks and yoga camps are also organised regularly. “Yoga, trekking and running are highly promoted for the associates’ fitness and well-being. Global sports sponsorships are used as a major vehicle to promote wellness and community development through sports,” Mukherjee said.

Last year, TCS, one of the sponsors of the Mumbai Marathon, sent one of the biggest contingents for the event, with 2,000 TCS employees putting on their running shoes. The team was led by CEO and MD N Chandrasekaran, who ran the full marathon. Chandra, as he is called, has completed the full marathon in Mumbai and New York, among other places.

“We are looking at having facilities such as jogging tracks and coaches to encourage employees to prepare better to participate in some of the marathons,” Mukherjee said.

RPG Group

Last September, the RPG Group inaugurated a 4,000 sq ft Chill Zone at the basement of RPG House, in upmarket Worli.

There is no gym or treadmill here, but the Chill Zone is the space RPG employees use to de-stress any time of the day, be it with a game of table tennis, pool, foosball, video game or a round of boxing.

“It required courage of conviction to use 4,000 sq ft of prime real estate property for something like this. But our focus is on employee engagement and their holistic fitness,” said Arvind Agrawal, head of corporate development and HR, RPG Group.

“Engaged people give their best to any organisation. We realise that the aspects that lead to engagement include a wide array of things, and fun at work is one of them,” Agrawal said, as he sipped from a cup of soup from a vending machine located in the Chill Zone.

“All these facilities were put in place on the suggestions of employees,” said Hemant Behal, HR head, RPG Enterprises.

The Chill Zone is open through the day, even during office hours. The company promotes healthy living habits and fitness among its employees through various workshops conducted by RPG Lifesciences.

“We also get our people to help each other adapt healthy habits. On No Tobacco Day, several non-smokers gifted nicotine patch to the known smokers. Two people have actually not smoked since,” said Agrawal.

The Mumbai Marathon is big in RPG Group as well and last year it sponsored 200 employees.

Case Study: A seasoned marathon runner at 57

Pervin Batliwala, an executive assistant at HUL, walks straight with a little bounce in her gait.

She has started her day at 6 am with a 12-km run and then made the long journey from Nariman Point to her office at the HUL head office in Andheri East through traffic.

She remains bubbly and alert after lunch, at 2 pm, with half the day lying ahead of her. If all this is not impressive enough, she is 57 years old.

Batliwala is a veteran of more than a dozen marathons and has placed in the top 10 in at least half of them since 2006. Apart from the Mumbai Marathon, she has also been to Auroville (Pondicherry), Thane and Delhi to run.

“I first joined the gymnasium when it opened at the HUL office in Churchgate. A little later I started running,” Batliwala said.

Since 2006, she has participated every year in the Mumbai as well as the Delhi marathons. “HUL has been supportive of my passion for running and it even sponsors my air fare, hotel stay and registration for the Delhi Marathon,” Batliwala revealed.

Ever since the fitness bug bit her after she crossed 50, she has not missed running or exercise. “I have been more agile, fit and alert since I started running and exercising. It helps me stay more active and fresh at work as well,” she said.

Batliwala runs at least 9 km on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and goes to the gym on the other three days; Sunday is a rest day.